Hillsborough County Schools continuing to move forward with Common Core

09/25/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough County Schools, Rick Scott, Common Core, PARCC, education, wmnf, tampa international airport


Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent supports implementation of Common Core in public schools.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia isn’t worried about implementation of new teaching standards known as Common Core. Elia showed optimism for the program’s success during a breakfast with the Tampa Bay Partnership despite a decision by Governor Rick Scott to pull support from the group charged with coming up with testing standards to align with it.

“I do believe that the governor is committed to having strong standards in our schools and those standards need to have the appropriate assessments and I believe he’s committed to that as well.”

Earlier this week, the governor signed an executive order pulling support from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. Florida had been managing the $186 million of federal funding tied to creating assessments to go along with Common Core in 45 participating states. His order did not pull support from the teaching standards. Elia said there are still other options to replace parts of the state’s current test known as the FCAT, or Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

“The opportunity exists for PARCC to come in and be selected in Florida. That’s still on the table. I think his move to distance himself from one and to look at several can work very well for us.”

The executive order could push completion of a new assessment back. Right now, Hillsborough County intends to have new tests in place by the 2014-2015 school year. Liz Uppercue is the principal of the Sam Rampello Downtown Partnership School in Tampa.

“It’s just adding a big question mark on, what will the assessment piece be?”

Critics of Scott’s decision to end the state’s relationship with PARCC say it was a politicized move meant to appease groups opposed to Common Core. One of the main arguments against Common Core is that the federally funded program will lead to too much government oversight. Speaking to reporters in Tallahassee this week, Scott wouldn’t give specific examples, but instead touted the teaching standards he’s left on the table.

“You know, if you look at it it’s their entry point to having more involvement in our education system and my goal is: let’s make sure we continue to raise our standards.”

Those standards would create uniformed guidelines for teachers so states were all on the same page. Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Elia used children of soldiers stationed at MacDill Air Force who often move from state to state every couple of years.

“It won’t do any good to compare Florida to Massachusetts and know whether we’re on par with them, whether we’re really ahead or we’re behind if we don’t have common assessments.”

The Common Core standards are also meant to be more rigorous.

“So, the readings will be the same and they’re going to read the declaration of independence. But they’re going to read it and then they’re going to understand some of the specific words in it. Then they’re going to talk to their team members about it. Then they’re going to report back to the group and it becomes a powerful, interactive discussion which uses so much more of their intellect to understand what’s really on the page.”

Still, critics argue the standards could take creativity away from teachers in the classroom and instead push them to “teach to the test.” Elia disagrees.

“It is more the pedagogy that is used and the standards that have to be taught to. Teachers have lots of leeway.”

Schools across the state have already begun implementing some of the teaching standards. In Hillsborough County parts of Common Core were implemented in kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Implementation was completed in those grades this year and started in grades 6-12. Full implementation is expected by the 2014-2015 school year. The Downtown Partnership School’s principal, Uppercue, said she’s already seen success with the standards.

“We’re looking at just the student engagement; real life activities. The example I gave was the fifth grade where they were reading different texts and then they were actually building a roller coaster based on what they learned and producing a brochure.”

In a letter to the State Board of Education, Governor Scott requested at least three public meetings to discuss issues surrounding Common Core. Those meetings have not yet been scheduled.

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